House members share personal abortion stories to advocate for preservation of procedural right

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WASHINGTON – Three members of Congress shared their personal and sometimes painful abortion stories on Thursday, in a moving hearing that comes amid an intensifying battle for a Texas law that is the most restrictive in the country.

Two of the lawmakers said they were teenagers when they decided to terminate their pregnancy. Representative Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Described her decision in the mid-1960s to have a “clandestine abortion” in Mexico at the age of 16, describing herself as “one of the luckiest” because many other women and girls at the time died from unsafe abortions.

Representative Cori Bush, D-Mo., Said she decided to have an abortion after being raped at the age of 17 by a man she met on a trip to church. Bush said that while the abortion clinic staff treated the white girls with respect, they spoke “like garbage” to her and another young black girl.

“To all the black women and girls who have had an abortion and are going to have an abortion, we have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Bush. “We live in a society that has failed to legislate love and justice for us. So we deserve better. We demand better. We deserve better. This is why I am here to tell my story.

And Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Said she decided to have an abortion knowing she couldn’t have another high-risk pregnancy after having her first child, who weighed less than two pounds. at birth.

Longtime feminist activist Gloria Steinem also spoke at Thursday’s hearing of the House Committee on Monitoring and Abortion Rights Reform. She spoke of her own abortion and warned that if other states followed Texas’ lead, “we will be very close to going back to the days of the 1950s, when one in three women had an illegal abortion and dangerous ”.

Abortion rights advocates fear the greatest threat to Roe v. Wade since the 1973 ruling guaranteeing a woman’s right to abortion as the conservative Supreme Court is set to rule on some of the country’s most restrictive laws. The court begins its new term on Monday.

Texas’ new law, which came into effect on September 1 after the Supreme Court refused to immediately block its application, prohibits abortions as early as six weeks pregnant and makes no exceptions for rape, sexual abuse or incest. The law allows individuals to sue anyone who helps a woman in Texas terminate her pregnancy.

Republicans at Thursday’s hearing argued that lawmakers should not spend their time debating Texas law, over which the panel has no jurisdiction.

Kentucky Representative James Comer, the committee’s top Republican, said Democrats should instead hold hearings on Afghanistan and illegal immigration. Representative Virginia Foxx, RN.C., accused Democrats of trying to “normalize the destruction of unborn babies,” calling abortion a “national sin.”

“Those of you who promote abortion wouldn’t be with us if your mothers had an abortion,” Foxx said. “We should mourn the millions of children whose lives ended because they were unwanted… How can a woman say her life is better because of abortion? “

A Republican lawmaker, Florida Rep. Kat Cammack, described her personal experience as the daughter of a mother who was advised by doctors to have an abortion but chose not to have it instead.

“She did something that a lot of my colleagues here could have done,” Cammack said. She added, “Every woman’s story is different and these decisions are not easy. But I am grateful every day that there are resources available for my mother… My mother survived. I survived and am a living witness to the power of life and the incredible choice my own mother made.

Thursday’s hearing comes a week after the House passed legislation that would create a statutory right for medical professionals to perform abortions. HR 3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act, has been approved by House 218-211, but faces high odds in the equally divided Senate.

The measure stipulates that health care providers have the statutory right to provide, and patients have the right to receive, abortion services without a number of limitations that states and opponents of the procedure have sought to impose. . The measure would essentially codify Roe, the Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the right to abortion before viability, typically around 22 to 24 weeks.

Lee, Jayapal, Bush, and Steinem shared their own experiences, noting that it was difficult but that they wanted to reduce the stigma faced by people seeking abortions.

“I grew up in El Paso, Texas, and attended a Catholic school,” Lee said. “So of course growing up sex education was non-existent… and because of that, I honestly wasn’t sure how you got pregnant.”

After missing her period at 16, Lee said, she became calm and withdrawn at home. His mother noticed him and asked him what was going on. Lee told her, and her mother then asked her if she wanted to have an abortion.

A family friend “told my mom to send me home in El Paso because she knew a good, knowledgeable, compassionate doctor, yes, who had an alley clinic in Mexico,” said Lee, 75. years, adding that she was “one of the lucky ones” because “a lot of girls and women of my generation did not make it”.

“In the 1960s, unsafe septic abortions were the number one killer – the number one killer – of African American women,” Lee said.

Jayapal told the panel that her first child was born at 26 and a half weeks and was “so small it fits in the palm of my hand – the size of an average-sized squash.” Her child, Janak, is now 25 years old and her gender is not binary.

After giving birth, Jayapal said, she suffered from severe postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder which “was only diagnosed after considering suicide and realizing that I had. need to ask for help “.

She said that despite being on birth control, she got pregnant a second time and her doctors told her that any future pregnancy would also be at high risk for herself and the child.

“I really wanted to have more kids, but I just couldn’t imagine going through it again,” said Jayapal, 56. “After discussions with my partner, who fully supported whatever I chose, I decided to have an abortion.”

Bush said that after being raped she felt lonely and blamed herself for what happened. Her parents were “the best parents in the world,” but she was still worried about disappointing them and worried they would kick her out of the house, she said. So she made an appointment at a local abortion clinic.

“There were a few other people in the clinic waiting room, including another young black girl,” Bush said. “I heard the clinic staff talk about her saying, ‘She ruined her life’ and ‘That’s what they do’ – ‘They’re black girls like us. “

Bush said she too was treated disrespectfully by clinic staff during her counseling session.

In Zone of Change, by contrast, Bush overheard other girls – all white – talking about how clinic staff told them “how bright their future was, how much their babies would be loved. ‘they [were] adopted, and that their options and opportunities were limitless.

“At that moment, listening to these girls, I felt angst. I felt like I failed, ”said Bush. But she also said that after returning home from the procedure, she felt steadfast in her decision.

“Choosing to have an abortion was the most difficult decision I have ever made,” Bush, 45, told the committee. “But at 18, I knew it was the right decision for me. It was liberating, knowing that I had options. Even still, it took me a long time to feel myself again until quite recently when I decided to give this speech.

When it was her turn to address the committee, Steinem, 87, said she accepted the invitation “because I bet I’m one of the few people old enough to remember how hard it is. ‘was serious when abortion was illegal.

“What were those days like? ” she said. “Well, you know, I was there, and I can tell you that like a lot of older women can do, they were filled with danger for women and guilt for women and men. “

Steinem said she had an abortion while living in England as a young woman. At the time, the doctor – who performed the abortion through a legal loophole – told her to promise her two things: “You must never tell my name to anyone, and you must do whatever you want to do with your life. life.


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